Single-Payer Advocates Rally at Statehouse

MONPELIER – Advocates of a single-payer health care plan in Vermont packed a Statehouse room Wednesday to boost support among lawmakers who returned for a new biennium.

Mari Cordes, the president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said the Health Care is a Human Right campaign, run by the Vermont Worker’s Center, would seek implementation of a new health care system this year.

"Today is day one in building a people’s movement for single-payer health care system in Vermont," she told a boisterous crowd packed into the Cedar Creek Room inside the statehouse.

Act 128 was signed into law last year and calls for a consultant, Dr. William Hsaio, to provide lawmakers with three separate health care systems and plans to implement them. One plan must be a single-payer system.

Single-payer advocates are buoyed this year because Democratic Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin, who will be sworn in today, promised during the campaign to implement such a system.

Officials with the Health Care is a Human Right campaign presented signed petitions to lawmakers in support of implementing one of Hsaio’s plans. The petition calls for the plan to be universal, equitable and transparent.

Several lawmakers, including House Speaker Shap Smith attended the rally in support of the campaign. Smith said the House will act this year on Hsaio’s report, and will work with the Shumlin administration and other state officials.

"We are looking forward and are committed to taking up the Hsaio report this year," he said.

State Sen. William Carris, the new Senate majority leader, said health care was "clearly the priority for Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, a Democrat from Windsor County.

Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, was introduced Wednesday as the new chairwoman of the House Health Care Committee. She said she fully supports moving forward with a single-payer system after initial hesitation.

"I wasn’t sure that universal health care was the right way to go," Ayer said. "Now, eight years later I believe that it is a disgrace that we’re the only industrialized nation without it."

Vermont Worker’s Center President Peg Franzen urged single-payer advocates to continue their organizing efforts, predicting opponents would increase their own efforts.

‘If we can do it it will begin to lead the country and lead other states," she said. "So there is going to be a lot of opposition. "There’s going to be obstacles."